The Social Media Epidemic - Part One
Part One: Damaging us as individuals
It’s a new year, and one thing is perfectly clear: social media is far more damaging than we had initially thought. We’ve been warned that social media might be bad for our brains; that it’s distracting us from our real lives — but we didn’t know it would get this bad. The line between social media platforms and our real, living social networks continues to blur — and yet we still haven’t realized how much worse the social media epidemic is going to become.
This 4-part series will show how the very same underlying systems that make social media so entertaining and valuable are also responsible for:
1. Damaging us as individuals,
2. Weakening our personal relationships,
3. Dividing our communities, and
4. Slowing the rate of humanity’s progression.
I hope that exploring the systemic problems inherent in our obsession with social media will help create new platforms that unify instead of divide.
The wrong tool for the job
Social media has changed the world in immeasurable ways, from helping us share information to overthrowing oppressive governments.
Its power comes from its phenomenal ability to distribute information quickly and effortlessly to large groups of people. But those same characteristics — that make it a useful tool for broadcasting general information — make it nearly impossibly to engage in meaningful conversation.
Our lives have become increasingly digital, but we still feel a basic need to interact with others. This need drives us to scrape together a buffet of social media platforms in a subconscious attempt to fill our need for human connection.
We do so because we believe that by following, friending, or clicking “like” we’re connecting with our friends. There is, however, a big difference between the oneway consumption of posts and actually having meaningful interactions.
Many of today’s social and psychological problems stem from our continued attempt to use the wrong tool (broadcasting platforms) for an essential job (human connection). In this first post, we’ll look at how this is damaging us as individuals.
Consuming Curated Insecurities
Our social media feeds deliver us a personalized curation of everything we may want to consume, whether it’s birthday invitations or updates on friends’ lives.
This inevitably acts as a constant reminder of all the things we haven’t done with our own lives, everything we’re missing out on, meaning that a personalized feed of all our insecurities is always right there, in our pocket, dinging and buzzing to make sure we don’t forget.
As with all media, social media must be entertaining to keep our attention. For this reason, we seem to have evolved to instinctively filter out the humdrum details of our lives when posting online — instead we create a distorted version of what our lives should be like, omitting anything that doesn’t showcase our best selves.
Comparing our lives to the highlight reels of others isn’t limited to our friends. Our feeds are also peppered with achievements from the world’s greatest actors, singers, athletes, and entrepreneurs. We compare our lives to theirs, forgetting that we’re seeing them on screen exactly because their accomplishments are out of the ordinary. Regardless, we make constant comparisons, leading 99.99% of us to feel like we’ve somehow failed.
We also see what we’re missing out on: the parties we weren’t at, vacations we weren’t invited to, and once-in-a-lifetime events we didn’t attend. No matter what we’re doing, it seems like there’s always something better going on — and social media is there to make sure we are reminded of this all day, every day.
Our feeds don’t just contribute to feelings of FOMO and ineptitude, they also highlight our physical insecurities. Instagram is designed to make everything look better. It’s a platform filled with beautiful people doing beautiful things in beautiful ways.
Only perfect photos are posted — and that’s only after Instagram’s filters have enhanced them. People want to make sure their accounts appear popular, and might even remove photos from their accounts if they don’t get enough likes, leading to real life and real people being slowly filtered out. We forget or don’t realize that some of the people we follow have whole teams dedicated to make each picture appear spontaneous while still also seeming award-worthy.
We follow what we like and so create our own digital escape where we’re shown endless pictures of amazing food, cars, and houses that we’re unlikely to ever have in real life. Trending images of impossibly attractive people ensure that we feel bad about how we look while simultaneously training us to expect more from others.
We open social media feeds when we’re bored and it shows us how boring we are. We log on when we’re lonely and we feel even further away.
Our insecurities, shame, and depression will only continue to grow as we replace our real interactions with platforms designed for mass communication.
Telling people that they are using social media “wrong” isn’t going to change anything. It’s going to require a new wave of platforms specifically designed to increase meaningful interactions in a digital world.
I’ll focus more on what these platforms will look like in the future. For now, look out for the second post in this series that will examine how social media is decreasing our social interactions, damaging our personal relationships, and stopping us from creating new connections.